The client who phoned Noelia Castro Ramirez, a HUD-certified housing counselor with Ponce Neighborhood Housing Services, had already been turned down for loss mitigation by his bank. He had written up a budget and submitted it, she says. But the budget didn't show that he could cover his monthly loan payments.
Ponce counselors work with clients on credit, budgets and more.
Castro Ramirez worked with him on his budget, and he trimmed down expenses like cable TV and dining out. He trimmed cell phone expenses and highlighted that his daughter would no longer need tuition for school after her upcoming graduation. The numbers added up. "Once we evaluated his budget and he showed the bank a new budget and an action plan, the bank said, 'Now we can help you,'” she says.
Counseling sessions like this are part of the regular work of Ponce, a NeighborWorks network organization in Puerto Rico. And they have become even more crucial. That's why NeighborWorks America, with funding from Wells Fargo
, implemented Keeping People Housed, an initiative to support network organizations that work on eviction and foreclosure prevention efforts in communities hit hardest by the endemic and the subsequent economic impact. NeighborWorks organizations report using the grants in different ways – for counseling and coaching, for workshops, for connecting residents with relief, and for letting the community know what services are available.
At Ponce, the grant helped increase capacity, Castro Ramirez says. Counselors hadn't been seeing a lot
of foreclosure or evictions clients in 2020 because of moratoria that were in place. But as rent and mortgages came due, clients started knocking. "Everything started to explode and we have been receiving at least 10 clients in a month for foreclosure intervention and we expect this number to continue rising. We needed more people to give this type of counseling session and to get certified. We want the best for our clients.”
A post-purchase/home maintenance workshop, also created using the Keep People Housed funding, drew 800 people in over 15 underserved and low-income communities in municipalities on the south, southeast, southwest and central coasts of the island. "Thanks to the support of these funds, it was possible to establish a program that helps families take care of their homes, not only the structure but at the level of family finances,” Castro Ramirez says. Ponce also created a workshop called "Hogar Seguro" (Safe Home), which talks about the process of foreclosure and what to expect from it.
Other network organizations report using funding from Keeping People Housed for outreach opportunities, whether it be talking to individuals in churches, creating fliers or, like United Housing Inc.,
holding a presentation in the Memphis Public Library, where staff provided information on the various types of housing assistance available in the region and nationally. United Housing also used funding to let people know about its services, placing ads on Latinx radio stations to expand outreach to the Spanish-speaking community, according to Priscilla Reed, housing counseling and education director.
"Grants like these allow us to expand our outreach to 'harder to reach' communities in Memphis,” shares Amy Schaftlein, executive director. "For example, we recently hired a bi-lingual housing advocate who has helped to organize media outreach, community events, and other information sessions in Spanish to reach an audience we have previously have not been able to reach.” Schaftlein says the organization now offers homebuyer education classes in Spanish monthly and has already pre-approved two individuals for mortgages who would not have had access to financing due to immigration status. "This is what it is all about!" she says.
Consumers interested in learning how they might take advantage of housing or financial counseling services can contact the local NeighborWorks organization
in their community.
Homeownership, Puerto Rico, Northeast Region, counseling, financial health